Natty-McNatty-Naturdays! I had a few of these strawberry-lemonade-light-lager-shandies when a friend brought them up to our cabin. Very refreshing and a nice lower ABV option to swill between double IPAs and imperial stouts. I love the pink can with the flamingo motif, which is why I chose to put this can in the Flamingo Hotel’s Flamingo Habitat in Las Vegas. It actually is a pretty good version of a shandy, not as sweet as you might imagine. For that matter, regular Natural Light is okay, just do me a favor and don’t ever buy the Natural ICE, it tastes like acetone. Cheers to friends, pink cans of beer, and the love of Saturday! Get natural this weekend and have a Naturdays!
I love traveling, and one of the best things about going to new places is seeking out new beers. Utah is one of my favorite destinations, but for skiing and mountains, not for the beer. There is some good beer to be found, but the strict alcohol rules make it difficult to purchase, or consume at most establishments. Luckily, last year they finally upped the percentage a bit, and now you can find 5% beers on draft. I have been asked to paint the Polygamy Porter for a long time, but until I actually went to Salt Lake City, I had a hard time coming up with a concept for the painting. When I finally went there last year, we visited Temple Square, where the Salt Lake Temple is located, and took a picture of the monumental temple with the intention of using it for a painting of Polygamy Porter. This beer is made as a tongue and cheek brew. The motto for the beer is, “Why have just one?” This painting is also made to be tongue and cheek, please don’t take it too seriously. When I was painting it, I was totally concerned that I might offend people, so my answer is please don’t be offended, it’s just a joke.
Cheers to Polygamy Porter! May the Church of Jesus Christ of Later Day Saints take my ribbing and Wasatch’s porter the right way, in good humor, if not in good “spirits.”
The original oil painting sold, but limited-edition prints are available at my Etsy shop.
We recently returned from our cabin in McCarthy to the metropolis known as Anchorage. Maria and I both experienced small culture shock from the peaceful surroundings of our ten acres near Wrangell – St. Elias National Park compared to the industrialized buzz of the Anchorage city scene. At the end of a two week stay all the treats we stockpiled to bring to the cabin start to run out and pretty soon you are making a lentil casserole from leftover ingredients. At the cabin the birds were chirping and the loudest noise in the area was ourselves. In Anchorage, the place where supplies are plentiful, we ordered sushi the night we arrived to our condo. It was crazy to hear sirens, neighbors’ doors opening and closing, and the garbage truck.
We returned because I have an art show at Midnight Sun Brewing Co. starting this Friday, June 5th, and lasting for the whole month. I have been working hard to get a new group of paintings together for this show. The new pieces represent the four seasons of nature in Alaska’s Boreal forest, and I think they turned out pretty well. Alaska is still experiencing over a dozen new cases of the Covies each day, but the Governor said we can start socializing again, so the show will go on, but don’t forget your mask. I’ll tap the firkin at 5pm, and last call will be at 8pm.
Upon returning to Anchorage I was pretty stoked to go into MSBC and have a beer with my friends again. MSBC didn’t get to celebrate its 25th birthday on the 5th of May the way it normally does, so this week the brewery is having a small celebration by offering some serious barrel aged beauties on draft. Yesterday I stopped in and they had Arctic Devil barleywine, Sloth imperial stout, Bar Fly smoked imperial stout, the 25th anniversary barrel aged quad, and the Grand Crew Brew all on draft. The walls at the Loft were bare when I got back Sunday, so I hung some paintings Monday. I will hang the remaining 33 paintings tonight, and I will see if those barrel aged beers are still on draft.
Tomorrow is one of my favorite nights of the summer when I get to host the First Firkin Friday for June. If the barrel aged delights are no longer on the menu, never fear, because there will be a special cask of Sloth aged on blackberries! I will be bringing my craft fair table and will be selling art cards and stickers while sipping the tasty brews around my face mask. It has been since 2013 that I have been enjoying MSBC’s hospitality in June, and I can’t think of a better way to spend the beginning of summer than sharing a small glass of Sloth with you! So don’t go hiking at 5PM tomorrow, because you won’t get back in time, the brewery still closes at 8pm. This isn’t a problem in the winter, but during summer, sometimes you have to set an alarm to make sure it doesn’t get too late for fresh beer at the tasting rooms! I look forward to seeing all your sparkling eyes, if I miss being able to see your big smiles under your masks tomorrow! Cheers to summer!
Today I would like to talk about the most recent acquisition to my 10-acre property in McCarthy, Alaska — a vintage tractor! This 1967 International Harvester Low Boy Cub was a trade I made with my long time friend and virtual little brother, John Hickerson. I will be making a large oil painting for John when he moves to Oklahoma. John will be buying a farmhouse and will need a centerpiece painting for his new home. I feel this is a great trade for this sweet piece of equipment. John has been restoring this tractor for three years, and it runs really well. We still have some plans to finalize the restoration. We have some parts on order to rebuild the clutch, and we will be installing a new head gasket, and replacing the piston rings. It has already undergone a 12-volt conversion, and uses an alternator and battery from a Ford Focus. Earlier this week we used the tractor to spread gravel and grade our driveway. It was a real work horse — some of the lumps we destroyed would take weeks to level by hand.
I am really happy with the IH tractor, because it means I won’t have to break my back when I pop stumps out of the ground. It is rear-wheel drive, but has a mean set of rear tires with tire chains. It is really fun to drive, as the throttle is a hand lever, and there are two brakes — one for each rear wheel. These tractors are really popular, and getting parts is pretty easy and affordable. I have plans to build a barn to house my McCarthy motorized vehicles. I’ve acquired quite a fleet with my four-wheeler, snow-machine, tractor, and a 4×8 utility trailer. I’m looking forward to getting this tractor running like it was brand new, then pulling the trailer with a bale of straw, and we will have hay rides around McCarthy and up to my place! Maybe I’ll even join the 4th of July parade in McCarthy this year!
When I tell people I’m the Beer Artist, they immediately think I make beer labels. I have to explain that I am an oil painter and I make paintings of beers. I have only made three official beer labels during my career so far, and two have been for special one-off beers for Midnight Sun Brewing Co. Former MSBC Chef, Chris Hilliard, and I brewed a Dopplebock called Feast with the brewing team. It was barrel aged in whiskey barrels. I made a special painting for the label with Alaskan animals drinking and feasting. When I heard MSBC’s General Manager Gary Busse, a.k.a. “The Adult,” was retiring, I asked if he had plans for a special retirement beer. He said, “Yes, a dunkelweizen.” I was excited about it, and said, “I have to do a special label for that!”
What most people don’t know is that Gary has been instrumental to my beer artist career. In 2006 I made a series of paintings called the Color of Beer, which was the first time I ever painted beer. The show was a huge success, not because I sold any work at the actual art show at Noble’s Diner, but because when I drove the paintings around town after the art show, I sold them at local breweries and at the home-brew shop. During a stop at the original MSBC location on Arctic Blvd I sold 3 of the 10 paintings! Two to Gary and another one to a customer who just happened to be getting a growler filled. It was because of this type of success that I made my second beer art series, 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall. It took me years to complete the small paintings and then I had no idea where to show the large body of work. I had grandiose plans to house the show in the Lower 48 (what Alaskan’s call the Continental US), and I had a long back and forth email conversation with Greg Koch of Stone Brewing Co. When that failed, I imagined Deschutes Brewing being the location for the show. Bend is where beer is more plentiful than water. When I visited the brewery, I couldn’t figure out where I would hang the pieces. Two years passed while I was searching for a location and I was chatting with Gary at the new MSBC Loft and asked what they had in mind for art. Gary explained that Barb Miller was going to do a rotating show every month and have a First Friday event called First Firkin Friday.
A firkin is a 10 gallon keg that is cask conditioned, i.e. fermented just enough in the keg to cause carbonation naturally. MSBC uses a pin for First Firkin Friday , which is a 5 gallon version of the firkin. Gary told me he would put a good word in for me with Barb, but that it was a long shot, because she had a specific vision. Barb and I hit it off, and she made me wait until January to have the show, because it was the first ever AK Beer Week! The show was a huge success, and I owe it to Gary and Barb! The following year Gary purchased a large beer painting I made for the next show at MSBC called Another Round, which consisted entirely of MSBC beer paintings. I continue to make beer paintings today, and completed my most famous series called the Year of Beer three years after the 99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall. I showed this series at MSBC as well.
Gary is the General Manager at MSBC. His nickname at the brewery is “The Adult.” He is the one who has kept MSBC profitable and in business. After art shows at MSBC Gary is the guy who writes and signs my checks. He has worked there for nearly 20 years! When I asked him what to do for his retirement beer label, he said it had to be a portrait of him with a bunch of kids running loose in the tasting room. He said the beer would be called “The Adult,” and that it was going to be a dunkelweizen, his favorite style. I am not a portrait artist and I have had some mixed reactions to my portraits over the years, and I mentioned this at our art meeting. I gave it my best shot and Gary was slightly disappointed with my first attempt at his portrait. He said the likeness maked him look like Butt-head, from Beavis and Butt-head. I gave it another try, working from a new picture that Gary send me of himself, and I finally got it right on the third try. The other characters on the label represent employees at Midnight Sun Brewing Co. It’s pretty easy to identify Davey with his mohawk and Barb struggling over toys with Mark. I imagined the girl in pink to represent some of the servers, and the others as brewers and workers over the ages. I know I missed many important MSBC people, but they are represented whether the likenesses are to be found or not. Leave it to “The Adult” to keep them in line.
What will MSBC do without this parental figure to check everyone and keep the brewery in the black? Luckily, Gary passed most of his knowledge to Jamie Schmitt, who has big shoes to fill. I am sure there will be many memories yet to be made at this iconic brewery in Anchorage, Alaska. With so many great beers and such a high quality bistro, MSBC has found its recipe for success! I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next! I love going to MSBC and love adorning the walls with my paintings every June and January! Cheers to Gary!
Our studio is inside the 4th Avenue Market Place, which is right on 4th Avenue, about a block from the ceremonial start of the Iditarod Sled Dog Race. So, since 2016 we’ve been transforming the studio from work mode to pop-up gallery mode, and opening it to the public when everyone is on 4th Avenue to watch the race. Each year I paint a new dog-mushing oil painting, and it usually sells on the day of the race. A lot of people who come through the studio that day are tourists who came to Alaska just to see the Iditarod. This year I painted this piece of Martin Buser, and then featured it in an e-news to my subscribers, and it sold before the open studio event!
So Maria took a photo of the painting, and printed prints of it to sell during the Iditarod start at our studio. But she also displayed the original, with a “Sold” sticker on it, and she had the brilliant idea to write on the sticker that I accept commissions, and could paint a custom Iditarod painting similar to this one with “your favorite musher.” Well, several people took her up on that offer, and suddenly, I found myself painting dog teams for the next three weeks! We were supposed to go to Washington, Hawaii, and Australia, but those trips were cancelled due to COVID-19 hysteria, so I ended up having plenty of time to work on these paintings. I just finished them last week. Who’s your favorite musher?
One time I heard someone say that successful people have a team of professionals. I’m not talking about a CEO with a full staff of suits, but am referring to individuals who work with a group of specialists who are ready to help. Over the years we’ve found some good people to help us out when we needed their professional expertise. Our team consists of the following people.
Medical: general practitioner who can refer us to specialists, and a dentist.
Financial: insurance agent, and a CPA who helps us with taxes, and answers our tax-related questions throughout the year.
Legal: helps having a brother who’s a lawyer.
Household: plumber, handyman, auto mechanic.
If you’re not an artist yourself, you should also have an artist on your team. There are many instances when you’ll be glad you already know one. If you start a business and need a new logo, if you need art for your home, or for a gift, and especially if you took a really great photo of your dog in front of a glacier, and you want an artist to paint it 🙂 Many of you who are reading this blog post already know me, and I’m honored to be on your team. And if you’re looking for an artist as you read this, then consider me for the job. My reviews speak for themselves.
Spring break in Alaska means skiing, building snowmen, and spending time inside, because up here winter lasts well into April. Most stores are on a national merchandising schedule, so while Costco is selling snorkel masks and swimsuits in March, we’re still looking for hand and toe warmers, and new ski jackets. Ever since we finished building our log cabin in McCarthy, we’ve been going there for Spring break whenever we can, because McCarthy in March is super beautiful and fun! So here are some photos from our rowdy spring break shenanigans, Alaska style. At the time we still didn’t know that spring break would be endless this year due to COVID-19.
We’ve had our studio inside the 4th Avenue Market Place for almost five years now, and each year during the Fur Rondy winter festival, and the Iditarod race start we’ve been turning the studio into a pop-up gallery, and opening our doors to the public. The studio has large windows facing north, with a great view of the carnival. Yesterday the carnival rides showed up in the parking lot across the street, which means the festivities are right around the corner!
The timing of the winter festival is perfect. By late February, most Alaskans are fed up with winter, and start experiencing cabin fever. The best cure is to head downtown to watch sled dog races, outhouse races, check out snow sculptures, ride a couple carnival rides, and maybe even participate in the blanket toss. There are so many activities starting Feb. 28. Here’s a link to the entire schedule.
The Real Art Is Better studio will be open both weekends. Stop by to warm up, enjoy freshly-baked cookies, and check out the view. We’re inside the 4th Avenue Market Place in Suite 4, which is in the NW corner if you walk in from 4th Avenue. 333 W 4th Avenue.
Open Studio Hours:
Saturday, February 29, 11am – 5pm
Sunday, March 1, 11am – 3pm
Saturday, March 7, 10am – 6pm
If you have stopped by our studio in the last three months you saw the enormous oil painting filling my work space, or stashed in the hall in order to make room for people during open studio events. The Yukon-Kuskokwim Health Corporation built a new clinic in Bethel, and released a call for art in early 2019. We applied for several wall spaces, and were awarded a contract to create a 12ft x 6ft oil painting on canvas for a large area high on the wall above a stairway. This is the largest canvas I have ever painted! Last week I delivered, assembled and helped install this piece at its location in Bethel.
So, how do you take such a large painting on a jet-plane? I designed the canvas from the start so that transporting it on an Alaska Airlines flight would be possible. However, we all know that while some things seem easy conceptually, they can gain complexity as they progress. The stretcher support was made up of 45 individual ash and birchwood pieces, and no piece was longer than 6ft, because I wanted them all to fit into a ski bag. The canvas was rolled up and the stretcher support dis-assembled for its journey. I waited until the day before departure to break it down, and pack it up.
I awoke at 3:30 AM to catch a 6AM flight to Bethel. I brought two checked ski bags, and a carry-on backpack. No extra luggage fees for me with Club 49 thanks to Alaska Airlines! I could have brought another checked bag, since it was an in-state flight! Alaska Air and TSA were gentle enough with my precious cargo, and everything arrived in good shape and on-time. I was picked up by the YKHC maintenance foreman, Pat, at the airport. He and his team have been installing all the newly-acquired art pieces at the clinic. I got to see some of the art while I was there, and I must say that the committee chose some incredible art! We drove to the maintenance building and picked up two more staffers to help lift the painting onto the wall. Re-assembly took me a couple of hours and I had a conference room to myself. The extra help was great, and I don’t think I could have stretched it back to its original tightness without the extra muscle.
The maintenance crew was clutch, as I had planned to hang this colossal piece the same way I hang smaller pieces — on a heavy-duty wire. There is only an inch of clearance on either side of this piece so getting it straight on the wall was the real problem. Pat suggested I use a French cleat, and I agreed that would be better, if only I had thought to bring one. Pat was a superhero and produced the hardware from his storeroom! This made hanging the piece much easier. Four guys and two ladders later the 90lb painting slid into place. This took us right up to lunchtime, and I was a little disappointed I had taken the early flight, as now I had 8 hours to kill until I could catch the return flight to Anchorage. Pat had to check on his dog, and I had packed a lunch, so I chilled out at the hospital for an hour and breathed a sigh of relief.
After lunch Pat took me on an amazing driving tour of Bethel and the Kuskokwim River. I got to go to the grocery store to replenish my snacks for the return trip to Anchorage. Pretty expensive to buy food and gas in Bethel. $4.49 a gallon for gasoline, and $8.49 a gallon for milk! The area is beautiful tundra with mountains glistening in the distance. I got so see a pretty nice chunk of the town, which is much larger than I had expected — about 10,000 residents. The area around Bethel is very interesting, but the people are where the real beauty exists, everyone is so friendly and helpful. Bethel is a hub, but it felt like a really welcoming village.
I was dropped off at the airport with my drop cloths in my ski-bag, and I was feeling really fatigued by this time. I hunkered down at the airport and worked on my beer coloring book pages for a couple of hours before catching my flight home at 10PM. I met a fellow who was so happy to pick up his crate from Alaska Airlines. He said he had snow-machined for two hours from his camp to pick it up! This was right at twilight, so it was going to be a dark return trip for him. Adventurous people live in the Delta and I was happy to get a glimpse of this culture. Thank you YKHC for this superb opportunity! Maybe next time I can come in the summer and do a little fishing.
Here is a slideshow of some pictures I took during this whole process. Below you’ll also find three timelapse videos of my painting, and the last one is of us taking apart the painting and rolling up the canvas.